John Wesley “On the Use of Money”

by Richard on May 10, 2007

Maybe the most widely quoted (and mis-quoted) of John Wesley’s sermons is “The use of money”. Ever since Mrs Thatcher quoted it to justify her odious political programme it has been widely misunderstood, as this abridgement will (I hope) clarify:

John Wesley’s Sermon No. 44
“The Use of Money”

An Abridgement in Modern English

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourself, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”       Luke 16:9

The right use of money is of the utmost importance to the Christian, yet it is a subject given too little attention. Wealth has often been regarded by poets and philosophers as a source of evil and yet the fault lies, not with money, but with those who use it. Indeed, money should be regarded as a gift of God for the benefits that it brings in ordering the affairs of civilization and the opportunities it offers for doing good. In the hands of God’s children, money is food for the hungry, clothing for the naked and shelter for the stranger. With money we can care for the widow and the fatherless, defend the oppressed, meet the need of those who are sick or in pain.

It is therefore most urgent that God’s people know how to make use of their money for his glory. All the necessary instructions can be condensed into 3 simple rules:

  • GAIN ALL YOU CAN
  • SAVE ALL YOU CAN
  • GIVE ALL YOU CAN
Gain all you can

With this first rule, we sound like children of the world, and it is our bounden duty to do this. There are, however, limits to this rule. We should not gain money at the expense of life or health. No sum of money, however large, should induce us to accept employment which would injure our bodies. Neither should we begin (or continue in) any business which deprives us of the food and sleep that we need. We may draw a distinction between businesses which are absolutely unhealthy, such as those that deal directly with dangerous materials, and those employments which would be harmful to those of a weak constitution. If our reason or experience shows that a job is unhealthy for us, then we should leave it as soon as possible even if this means that our income is reduced.

The rule is further limited by the necessity not to undertake any employment which might injure our minds. This includes the pursuit of any trade which is against the law of God or the law of the land. It is just as wrong to defraud the king of taxes as it is to steal from our fellow citizens. There are businesses which might be innocent in themselves but which, at least in England at this time require cheating, lying or other customs which are contrary to good conscience, to provide an adequate income. These, too, we should avoid. There are other trades which many may pursue with complete innocence but which you may not because of some peculiarity of your nature. For example, I am convinced that I could not study mathematics without losing my faith, yet many others pursue a lifetime study in that field without harm. Everyone must judge for themselves and refrain from whatever may harm their mind and soul.

What is true of ourselves is equally true of our neighbour. We should not “gain all we can” by causing injury to another, whether to his trade, his body or his soul. We should not sell our goods below their market price nor should we entice away, or receive, the workers’ that a brother has need of. It is quite wrong to make a living from selling those things which would harm a neighbour’s health and physicians should not deliberately prolong a patient’s illness in order to improve his own income.

With these restrictions, it is every Christian’s duty to observe this first rule: ‘Gain all you can’. Gain all you can by honest work with all diligence. Lose no time in silly diversions and do not put off until tomorrow what may be done today. Do nothing by halves; use all the common sense that God has given you and study continually that you may improve on those who have gone before you. Make the best of all that is in your hands.

Save all you can

This is the second rule. Money is a precious gift. It should not be wasted on trivialities. Do not spend money on luxury foods, but be content with simple things that your body needs. Ornaments too, whether of the body, house or garden are a waste and should be avoided. Do not spend in order to gratify your vanity or to gain the admiration of others. The more you feed your pride in this way, the more it will grow within you.

And why should you spoil your children in this way? Fine clothes and luxury are a snare to them as they are to you. Why would you want to provide them with more pride and vanity? They have enough already! If you have good reason to believe that they would waste your wealth then do not leave it to them. Do not tempt them in this way. I am amazed at those parents who think that they can never leave their children enough. Have they no fear of hell? If there is only one child in the family who knows the value of money and there is a fortune to be inherited, then it is that one who should receive the bulk of it. If no child can be trusted in this way then it is the Christian’s duty to leave them only what will keep them from being in need. The rest should be distributed in order to bring glory to God.

Give all you can

Observing the first two rules is far from enough. Storing away money without using it is to throw it away. You might just as well cast your money into the sea as keep it in the bank. Having gained and saved all you can, then give all you can.

Why is this? You do not own the wealth that you have. It has been entrusted to you for a short while by the God who brought you into being. All belongs to him. Your wealth is to be used for him as a holy sacrifice, made acceptable through Jesus Christ.

If you wish to be a good steward of that which God has given to you on loan the rules are simple enough. First provide sufficient food and clothing for yourself and your household. If there is a surplus after this is done, then use what remains for the good of your Christian brothers and sisters. If there is still a surplus, then do good to all people, as you have the opportunity. If at any time you have a doubt about any particular expenditure, ask yourself honestly:

  1. Will I be acting, not as an owner, but as a steward of the Lord’s goods?
  2. Am I acting in obedience to the word of God?
  3. Is this expense a sacrifice to God through Jesus Christ?
  4. Do I believe that this expense will bring reward at the day of resurrection?

If you are still in doubt, put these questions as statements to God in prayer: “Lord, you see that I am going to spend this money on … and you know that I am acting as your trusted steward according to your design.” If you can make this prayer with a good conscience then you will know that your expense is right and good.

These, then, are the simple rules for the Christian use of money. Gain all you can, without bringing harm to yourself or neighbour. Save all you can by avoiding waste and unnecessary luxuries. Finally, give all you can. Do not limit yourself to a proportion. Do not give God a tenth or even half what he already owns, but give all that is his by using your wealth to preserve yourself and family, the Church of God and the rest of humanity. In this way you will be able to give a good account of your stewardship when the Lord comes with all his saints.

I plead with you in the name of the Lord Jesus, no more delay! Whatever task is before you, do it with all your strength. No more waste or luxury or envy. Use whatever God has loaned to you to do good to your fellow Christians and to all people. Give all that you have, as well as all that you are, to him who did not even withold his own Son for your sake.

{ 3 trackbacks }

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Larry B 05.10.07 at 2:51 pm

So did Wesley really say this?

“For example, I am convinced that I could not study mathematics without losing my faith, yet many others pursue a lifetime study in that field without harm.”

lol!

I would attest to not losing ones faith, but sanity is certainly up for grabs after studying mathematics.

2

Richard 05.10.07 at 3:15 pm

Yes he did, though i was paraphrasing. What he actually said was: ” So I am convinced, from many experiments, I could not study, to any degree of perfection, either mathematics, arithmetic, or algebra, without being a Deist, if not an Atheist: And yet others may study them all their lives without sustaining any inconvenience. None therefore can here determine for another; but every man must judge for himself, and abstain from whatever he in particular finds to be hurtful to his soul.”

If only he’d known of Euler’s Identity. he might have thought different.

3

ee 05.10.07 at 5:02 pm

Yep, bit different to Thatcherite ideas, that. I can imagine a bit of Methodist apoplexy when she first quoted it.

I like the sermon, especially the stress on all we have belonging to God, but I prefer the ideas of Richard Foster and others who say that wealth should slip easily through our fingers. In other words, nothing wrong with having things (I think Wesley’s sermon promotes a false guilt about this) - but be quick to give them away, and don’t let them own you.

4

dh 05.10.07 at 6:26 pm

I guess I don’t see any anti-Thatcherite ideas in what Wesley said. What is the problem with Thatcherite ideas? I’ve always had a high esteem of Thatcher. So I would be interested in why the problem with her.

5

Wood 05.11.07 at 9:10 am

If you grew up poor in the UK during the 1980s, you would understand.

6

ee 05.11.07 at 12:07 pm

(DH - sorry for this rant. It’s directed at Thatcher, not you)
To add to Wood’s comment, if you were:
- unemployed (many were because of her policies)
- in any of the traditional industries she effectively forced to close
- disabled
- in slightly dodgy health
- South African (she opposed sanctions)
- Chilean (supported Pinochet and other S American dictators)
- on the receiving end of the squillions of arms we flogged to the most unsavoury elements in world politics

You would understand why we don’t like her. She is a national humiliation. Indifferent to the fate of those who didn’t ‘take responsibility for themselves’. Hence why we’re not keen on her appropriation of Wesley, whose Methodist movement inspired the British left and gave our socialism a humane and godly edge rather than an atheistic war-like revoluntionary Marxist edge.

Man, she still makes me angry 17 years on.

7

John 05.12.07 at 5:04 pm

Thanks for posting this.

My experience reading Wesley’s sermons is always joyful. I half think we should include reading his sermons as a regular part of our church life - Sunday school or from the pulpit.

Your extended quote above of his comments on math would do so much good if we followed that advice ourselves. Just one of dozens and dozens of practical divinity to be found in his words.

8

dh 05.14.07 at 2:57 pm

Well it is a tough balance in supporting tough dictators and Marixist ones. Also, South Africa sanctions one must look at the times they were in. There was a grave concern that South Africa at the time was going to be Marixist and the ultimate leader of South Africa who did away with Apratheid at the time was thretening Marxism. He latter on rejected it. I still don’t understand how one is so angry toward Thatcher.

Shouldn’t people take care of themselves even the Bible says “you don’t worl you don’t eat”. However, I do agree with helping the poor but is it the governments responsibility on as grand a scale as Europe does? Could the American model of some help combined with people and the church out of their hearts helping those be a little better? Any time you live in an “entitlement society” and the economy is bad choices have to be made and some cuts have to be made. In Francethey have economics stifled by government regulations by forcing people if they want to work OT that they can’t. If people want to make more money through OT they legally can’t. Antother thing is that people there believe that their job is entitled to them. No firings can be made within 2 years and after that the job is tenured and the paperwork and time to fire an employee who is late, etc. takes over 6 months. How does this help productivity of an ecomomy where there is such high inflation and low productivity. There must be incentives for employees to work and how you do it is with lower regulations. I didn’t realize that Wesley was a big Socialist. After reading the quote above I don’t see how there is Socialism. I see Wesley promoting people out of their hearts as opposed to being forced by government and forcing people through the payment of taxes in the extreme these issues. I would much rather have a system where there are tax incentives and tax breaks to help the poor as opposed to the government doing it all by themselves. It doesn’t seem to have the “voluntary nature” of the system. Oh well, I’m proud I don’t live in an “entitlement society” where people “demand” for things as opposed to the oppostie (however not the extreme opposite).

If it weren’t for the tough hand on Marxism where the Marixist nations couldn’t keep up the military due to economics then we would still be left with the USSR today. Thank God for Reagan, Thatcher and other who supported the concept of “Mr Gorbachav, tear down this wall.” as opposed to not taking a stand for freedom that these leaders did. Churchill would have been proud. :)

9

Chris S 05.14.07 at 7:49 pm

*cheeky interjection* Surely if Marxism was so flawed it would have been overturned by the people without the need for a “tough hand”?

10

dh 05.14.07 at 8:25 pm

Well, when looking at Hitler and how the “people supported him”, history shows how people support something that actually is not in their best interest just as analogous to Marxism in those other nations. Sometimes people need to be saved from themselves rather than reacting from a problem in such a way that the reaction is just as bad as the thing being reacted from. If you get my drift. Change doesn’t have to be 180 degrees to be affective because many times the 180 degree change is just as bad as the current situation.

To suggest that Marxism is not flawed all one needs to do is look at the economics of all of the Marist nations and how poor they are. The nations that are successful are ones that move away from Marxism. Just becasue certain people want Marxism doesn’t actually mean that the people supporting it are supporting something that is in their best interest. People were stupid enough to support Hitler and the world knows now how much it was a mistake by the German people. The same goes for Marxism.

11

Chris S 05.15.07 at 3:51 pm

dh, did you know that the use of Hitler as an example is considered to be the ultimate debating taboo because it can be used to defend or attack far too many things?

I’m so glad the world has good neo-cons and neo-liberals to rescue us from the evils of Marxism… “Sometimes people need to be saved from themselves” has to be the most arrogant form of international policy I’ve ever heard. I’m sure to you it is a coherent part of democracy but to me it’s repulsive.

“We should not “gain all we can” by causing injury to another, whether to his trade, his body or his soul.” - There is no way, for the reasons put forward by ee and Wood, that Thatcher can be seen as compatible with that. You don’t have to be a Marxist to think that prosperity for some in 1980s Britain came at too heavy a cost to others.

12

dh 05.15.07 at 9:16 pm

Do you think the German people needed to be saved from themsleves? Hitler was publically elected. Wasn’t he? How can this not be a good example when Marxist governments are being supported democratically to their own detriment just like Hitler? As opposed to just attacking Pinochet, shouldn’t we attack both Pinochet AND the Che Guevera type Maxists as well? Your lack of addressing the problems of the reation to the Pinochet types indicates how it doesn’t seem to show a proper balance. I agree Pinochet was messed up but I’m not going to sit back and say that the reaction to Pinochet was not messed up as well. For me I must call a “spade a spade”.

I think it is naive to think that the Marist response to Pinochet was appropriate, or at least implied by your response to my reply. I believe it is repulsive to not attack the Marists when attacking Pinochet. For me they should both be equally attacked as opposed to one over the other. Both sides were messed up and I’m not going to defend Pinochet or Che Guevera.

This then goes back to my previous point: “Change doesn’t have to be 180 degrees to be affective because many times the 180 degree change is just as bad as the current situation.” Sometimes the reaction to a definitive problem is just as bad as the problem reacted from.

I don’t see Thatcher as “gain all you can by causing injury to another”. I see Thatcher and others as promoting that helping businesses to be successful so that people have jobs if businesses aren’t successful then there is no economic reason to have more jobs, limit inflation, lower taxes so that poor people don’t have to pay as much as previously or in many cases not at all which actually generates more revenue to the nation if government spending is in check, have the government promote helping non-profits so they can help the poor, give incentives for people to help the poor, helping other nations to have the economic freedoms that the West currently enjoys, etc.

I personally don’t believe it is arogant in light of history to know that a Marxist response to neo-con dictators is not going to be successful. The only way a nation can respond successfully to neo-con dictators is to do the revolt but not to revolt to the 180 degree extreme which is just as bad but to revolt to a more democratic republic form. When people get short-sighted in their terrible situation people do desperate messures which in the end do damage to themselves. This isn’t being arogant but a sense of care for people who are so needy that they desire change for change sake that actually hurts themselves. Have you looked at Venezuela, Laos, Nicaragua, etc.? How when nations choose the Marist form of government the situation for the people doesn’t change? When one changes a neo-con dictator for a Marist dictator nothing changes. It goes from one extreme to another with no help for the people. If the Western nations can help these nations see the benefit of truly being in the middle of these two terrible forms of government then maybe they can realize the success they truly deserve? This isn’t arogant but an observations of how one problem gets transferred for another problem as opposed to real change where people are helped.

13

Alan 06.09.14 at 8:59 am

Dear Richard
I hope you don’t mind but I used your wonderful English language summary of Wesley’s sermon on the use of money with my young adult Bible study group last night. It was incredibly helpful and they were inspired.

Every blessing and thanks
Alan
Enfield Circuit - North London

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